The Watch Factory Restaurant (Cheshire, CT)
A year or so ago, I was looking for a Swiss restaurant somewhere near New Haven. It turns out there aren't any Swiss restaurants around here (if I'm wrong about that, I'd be glad to be corrected), and the German places there are seem to be oriented to beer and sausages. Nothing against beer and sausages, but that wasn't what I was looking for. But I did hear about an Austrian restaurant in Cheshire that sounded interesting. For one reason or another, I didn't get to follow that up until last night, but I finally made it to the Watch Factory in Cheshire. I'm kind of surprised that (as far as I can tell) this restaurant has never been mentioned on this board, so I thought I should bring it to your attention.
The restaurant is part of what must be a restored factory (duh...), converted into trendy looking shops. Once you find it (I had to wander around a while), the space is quite attractive. high ceiling, rather spacious, divided into two areas. One of these has widely spaced tables in a dining room with wood accents, and the other has more rustic booths of the sort you find in places in the country in Austria (or Germany, or the German part of Switzerland). The official line is that this is "Austrian Country Cuisine," but the cooking is actually more refined than what you'll find most places in the Austrian countryside.
Since I was by myself, and wanted to try a couple of specific things to see how authentic it was, I don't yet have enough experience to provide anything like a full review. I had a first course of really excellent spätzli, with a cheese sauce (described as "Gruyére [sic] cheese, spätzli and crispy onions" -- I couldn't taste that the cheese was Gruyère, but the sauce was good, and the spätzli were outstanding: better than I make myself), and then the real test: a Wiener Schnitzel. If you've ever been to Austria, you know that this is not easy to reproduce. First of all, it's hard enough to get good enough veal here, but then to pound it out to a uniform thickness of about 3 mm, bread it delicately and fry it evenly is not trivial. And the Watch Factory's version passed with flying colors -- the first real Wiener Schnitzel I've had in the US, in fact. With it came red cabbage and green beans, as you would expect, and a wedge of "potato pancake" that was the one thing I wasn't enthusiastic about: it wasn't really crispy enough, and too thick ... but then, nobody but the Swiss can really make Röschti, which was what this was aiming for.
This may sound like a pretty pedestrian meal, but believe me, it wasn't. The specialty is evidently the schnitzels (veal, pork or chicken; plain or with a cream and mushroom sauce, as Jäger schnitzels), and most of the others in the room seemed to have ordered that, but there are lots of other things, including a number of fish dishes, duck legs and breasts, pork, etc. Everything I saw around me looked very well prepared, and I look forward to trying a number of other first courses and main courses in the future. And the desserts, which looked delicious too. I didn't take any pictures, but their website has some nice ones, and as far as I can tell they're quite accurate.
The wine list is largely limited to a surprisingly wide range of Austrian wines, including the nice Loimer Grüner Veltliner I had, and quite a few varieties both white and red. There are a couple of American wines, but I can't see any reason to go for those instead of the interesting Austrian offerings, which you won't find elsewhere.
The place is not cheap: first courses mostly $9, main courses $20-$31, mostly $30, and the wines $30 or $40 a bottle. Not outrageous, but not cheap either. But the restaurant is pleasant, the cooking is serious and interesting, and I hope I get to go back again soon. Service on a slow, rainy Tuesday evening was adequate -- I think it may have been the wife of the chef/owner, filling in on a night when more staff weren't really necessary. Other places I've looked them up on have suggested that you should call ahead, because sometimes they're closed without warning. I don't know. But I suggest that if you have any reason to be in the area, you think about a visit.
Watch Factory Restaurant
122 Elm St, Cheshire, CT 06410
My wife and I went to the Watch Factory again last night, and I was determined to try things other than the spätzli and the schnitzels. I'm even more impressed with the place now.
As a first course, my wife had the marinated beets with gorgonzola, and I had a crepe with shrimp and artichokes. If you like beets (as my wife does, and I don't) that's apparently a great choice, with lots of interesting flavor. My crepe was light and crispy around the edges, filled with lots of nice big shrimp and artichoke hearts (not fresh, but still good). Pictures of both are on the website (see earlier review) and the photos there are completely accurate as far as my experience goes.
For main courses, my wife had a venison (filet) special, and I had the lamb rack. She had spätzli with her venison, and I had the potato cake (röschti) with my lamb. Both were outstanding, cooked perfectly to medium rare as requested. This was the one thing that wasn't actually just like a good restaurant in Austria: even the best places there are likely to overcook your meat, in my experience. Otherwise, along with the entirely correct ritual side dish of red cabbage and very nicely done green beans, we felt we could have been somewhere in the Brixental (where Markus Patsch, the chef/owner comes from). The venison was particularly good: tender as could be, and tasty, with just enough game flavor to be clearly different from beef and not so much as to be unappealing. Farm raised, obviously, but very good. They're not likely to have this all the time, but if they don't, you won't feel sad if you have to settle for the lamb (or the duck, or....).
Things were so good we finished everything (even all of the red cabbage), with the result that I still haven't tried the desserts. It's nice to know there are still whole categories of things to look forward to....
We drank a very nice Hopler Pinot Noir, the light and fruity sort of wine that you find in Switzerland and Austria. I had a glass of Hopler Grüner Veltliner with the crepe. The Austrian wine selection is unique around here, as far as I know. It's worth noting that they will pour several of these by the glass, even if they're not listed as such on the menu: just ask which might be available that way.
Early on a Tuesday night we had the place, if not to ourselves, nearly so. I hope that's not indicative -- they ought to have lots of customers.
I just reccomended the watch factory in the post below (looking for help in cheshire) heh. Anyway we live in town and it is hands down our favorite spot. THe chef is the same as was in past years, frequently it is family serving, and it really is a great spot.
Next time you go Do not miss the Lemon or Chocolate mousse!! fabulous.
also the specials have always been good when we are there and my DH always orders the venison for dinner if it is avalible.